Characters

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While there are a number of facets that make a good movie, such as its plot, setting, visuals, etc, I return always in my musings to how much of an impact good/bad characters can have.

I have seen many movies with at least decent story, great visuals, great pacing (etc, etc), but have very forgettable characters – I have come out of these experiences entertained but not moved.
On the other hand, I watch old black and white movies with decidedly poor visual quality, poor sound, again decent story, but very strong and well developed characters – in this case I am not just entertained but impressed and delighted.

The most clear example that brings out my point is “rewatchability”. Think about the movies or tv shows that you can watch over and over again.

I went through a (short) phase in my teen years where I was somewhat possessed by the idea of having an impressive movie collection. I quickly began to realize not only that A) it was expensive B) in the great scheme of things it was a terrifically worthless pursuit, but that C) most movies I would buy, I would have no interest in watching again after the first run through. At the time I was mostly into NEW, loud, graphic, sci-fi and action movies. Whatever. : )
Thinking about this “phase” later on, I wondered about the movies I had been buying – why were they so dull after the first viewing? There were other older movies/tv-shows (ones I hadn’t considered buying) that I had watched a hundred times with my parents and could easily watch another hundred times someday with my own kids! I’m talking “The Quiet Man”, “The Scarlet and the Black”, ” The Dirty Dozen”, and others.

After some years of batting these questions around about “re-watch-ability” it occurred to me that the common thread of most “re-watchable” movies is that they all seemed to rely on strong characters, whether or not they had graphics and sound to back them up.

The more I have thought about this the more I have been convinced that “characters” can be one of the strongest or weakest aspects of a movie. A strong, well-developed, unforgettable caste of characters can carry even the dullest graphics or sounds (well, to a point I suppose).

Why might this be? I postulate that this has something to do with the nature of “personhood”.

There is a definite finitude to most of the aspects of a film or show. From the props to the special effects. You see/hear the props and special effects and then …. what? That’s all there is to them. One glance, and you have for the most part exhausted what they have to offer.

Some might argue that aspects such as music and storyline might have much more to them, and I would agree. Well written music can be listened to many times and a well written story can continue to entertain and even take on new meaning upon further passes.

However, what of characters? By far, on a scale of finitude/infinitude, persons are the deepest wells.

Persons really are inexhaustible. You could spend a lifetime getting to know someone and still have barely tapped their mystery. This is easily forgotten nowadays with relationships as shallow and brittle as they are. But those who have toughed it out, stuck with a friend or spouse even through hard times and against modern sensibilities, can still tell you that people really are little points of infinity scattered about a finite world.

This of course points to forgotten common sense about people around us. How easy it is take people for granted, even though they are the real brushes with infinity that we have every day. Isn’t it crazy how easy this is to forget? We work and struggle and save and learn and rush around and busy ourselves with life… to what ends? They certainly cannot be very noble ends if we aren’t stopping to be fascinated by the people around us – to enjoy them and to love them and to recall, again, how much more important and infinite people really are than anything else in our lives!

With this peculiar inexhaustibility of human persons in mind, perhaps we have our answer to why certain movies or tv-shows are “re-watchable”. A movie that is full of graphics and sound but with shallow, underdeveloped, unrealistic characters, is easily exhausted! Once we’ve seen it or heard it, we’ve pretty much seen and heard it all.

But what of movie that have strong characters, almost regardless of the graphics and sound? Will you ever be able to watch “The Quiet Man” enough times to exhaust Sean Thornton (or his actor, John Wayne?). Or Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind”? How much more memorable was the old Star Wars trilogy compared to the new, even though the new had twice the graphics/sound/explosions/lasers/and the like? Could it have been the unforgettable cast of the original trilogy and the (on the whole) forgettable cast of the new? Lord of the Rings, Bella, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc etc etc.

Instead of boring you with my list of movie and tv favorites, I’ll leave you to come up with your own (and share if you’d like!). But as you do so, think about the ones that are rewatchable and let me know if you agree with my proposition. I think you’ll begin to notice a pattern between the very great rewatchable classics and that tv show that grips you every time ( I am a “Law and Order” junkie). The characters are striking, rich, and as in real life, infinite and inexhaustible.

From one infinite soul to another, be blessed.

JonMarc Grodi

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